Centering the Knowledge Peripheries through Open Access

Full title: Centering the Knowledge Peripheries through Open Access: Implications for future research and discourse on ICT for Development.

Open Access (OA), or free online access, to scholarly and scientific publications has emerged as a significant global movement in the last ten years. It has also become an area of special interest to the development community given that access to knowledge is fundamental to all aspects of human development, from health to food security, and from education to social capacity building. The potential of OA to dramatically improve the visibility, usage and therefore impact of publicly funded research is also increasingly recognized by national and international funding bodies, aidagencies, and institutions of higher learning. This has lead to the implementation of a growing number of policy mandates that ensure public accessibility to publicly funded research.

There are now over 1,400 OA institutional and subject based repositories around the world, 17% of which are located in low income countries, and there are now over 4,000 OA journals across all subject areas listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals, many of them from emerging economies, led by Brazil, India, and South Africa. However, awareness of OA is still low among decision makers and researchers in the developing world, while cost and permission barriers to the world’s research literature continue to hamper efforts in local research capacity building, leading to continued isolation of researchers from the Global South. A further problem is the very narrow focus on journals in the citation indexes as the single most important measure of research excellence and the global ranking of universities. The adherence to this standard by developing country governments has led to a situation where research that is of vital importance to national development priorities has been marginalised. This applies also to a volume of development-focused publications produces in developing countries that remain invisible as a result of such policies.

Open Access therefore has the potential not only of opening the flow of knowledge from the North to the South, but of improving the South-South knowledge flow which may be more essential for local development.

In this paper, we present data and lessons learned from Bioline International, a non-profit collaborative electronic publishing platform providing open access to over 70 journals from 18 developing countries since 1993. Data are drawn from:
1. Usage and download statistics of the journal content from the host server, located at CRIA in Campinas, Brazil <>. Further fine-grained usage data, trends, users distribution and network origins are extracted from Google Analytics.
2. Survey of journal editors participating in Bioline on the impact of OA on their journal readership, submissions, peer review, and on the journal’s economic viability.
3. Personal interviews of select journal editors, publishers, and researchers from a variety of research setting, with a focus on the opportunities and challenges that OA may provide.
4. Bibliometric and citation analysis of a selected number of journals hosted by Bioline to compare the citation impact of the journals prior to and after conversion to OA.

The questions we aim to explore are the effects of OA on the quality, usage, and impact of participating journals. But instead of relying on traditional measures of journal impact, such as ISI’s Journal Impact Factor, we aim to apply and engage in the development of alternative and enhanced metrics that take into account the multiple outcomes of improved access beyond citation, and into less tangible realms including improved collaboration, participation, cross-fertilization of ideas, and uptake by development workers and policy makers. Using concepts and models from social accounting and social network theories, we aim to account for the significant social, intellectual and development outcomes make possible by OA that often go uncounted. We argue that once the benefits of OA for human development are better captured, then we must further examine the policy implications of research funding and their dissemination, and engage in the design of viable long term sustainable models for knowledge creation and their application through the appropriate use of open source tools and processes.

Authors: Leslie Chan and Eve Gray

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